The State Department says Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice will join in consultations at the United Nations next week on the political and health crisis in Zimbabwe. U.S. officials fault the U.N. Security Council for failing to take meaningful action to end the crisis.

State Department officials are not expecting any early Security Council resolution supporting U.S. calls for embattled Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe to step aside.

But they say Rice will try, in U.N. consultations Monday and Tuesday, to generate more pressure on the Zimbabwean leader, especially from neighboring states in southern Africa who have not used all the leverage they have to end the crisis.

With the death toll in Zimbabwe climbing from a cholera outbreak it attributes to failed governance, the Bush administration has shifted its policy emphasis in recent days from trying to get Mr. Mugabe to share power with his opponents to leaving office altogether.

At a news briefing, State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack said it is unfortunate the Security Council has not been able to take meaningful action on Zimbabwe thus far, and that Rice will explore whether attitudes have changed in light of the cholera epidemic and its spillover effects in the region.

He said the United States wants to start a process that will bring an end to the tragedy unfolding in Zimbabwe and that African states, in particular, need to do more. 

"Robert Mugabe probably could not continue on in the position he's in without some form of political support for him from neighboring states and states on the continent. We have made it quite clear where we stand and I think many, many other states in the international system have made it quite clear where we stand," he said. "We do know as a fact that states in the region have, at their disposal, unused leverage which we would urge them to use in this case, because the situation in Zimbabwe is not getting any better and people are dying."

While a senior State Department official on Thursday called for regional power South Africa to close its border with Zimbabwe to drive Mr. Mugabe from office, McCormack said he would not be prescriptive and that there are various levers neighbors can use in the current situation.

He said the United States, as a friend of South Africa, has urged it to take action on Zimbabwe but that it must ultimately make its own decision on the proper course to take.

U.S. officials have privately criticized South African leaders as being protective of Mr. Mugabe and say it is doubtful that government, a U.N. Security Council member until the end of this year, would support a strong resolution on Zimbabwe.

While in New York, Rice will also take part in Security Council consultations on dealing with the problem of piracy along the Somali coast.